Airmail Service

Topical Reference Page
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From left to right: Pilots Jack Knight, Clarence Lange, Lawrence Garrison, “Wild” Bill Hopson and Andrew Dunphy, head of the Omaha-Salt Lake City Division posed in front of an airmail hangar in Omaha.

At the end of the First World War, aviation pioneer William Boeing was on the verge of abandoning his fledgling and failing aviation business to return full time to the more profitable furniture business. In 1927 Boeing won one of a handful of US Post Office Department airmail contracts. At a time when few were willing to risk their lives as passengers in the developing commercial aviation industry, airmail contracts provided companies like Boeing with the financial cushion that allowed them to develop stronger, more reliable aircraft.

Not only did America’s Post Office Department fund the nation’s commercial aviation industry, but from 1918-1927, the Department operated the nation’s airmail service. Postal officials hired pilots and mechanics, purchased airplanes and equipment, established aviation routes and led the nation into the commercial aviation age.

Glossary: Airmail

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Aerial Mail Service Booklet

In October 1918, Second Assistant Postmaster General Otto Praeger, in charge of the nation’s airmail service, produced and distributed this small booklet promoting the success of the Post Office Department’s airmail (or aerial mail, as it was then known) service. The booklet touted the dependability of the nation’s airmail service at a time when aviation was still young and accidents, often fatal, were common.

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The Flying Post Office

But by the end of the Second World War, train service was declining, taking the railway mail train cars with it. More and more mail was being moved aboard aircraft.

Dangers of Flying the Mail

Among other accomplishments, the Post Office Department set the stage for the successful development of commercial aviation in America. From 1918-1926 the Department operated the nation’s airmail service, buying aircraft, determining flyways, organizing airports, and of course, hiring pilots.